Warning: Massive Spoilers for the Netflix Series Arcane
(Photo Credit: Riot Games, Netflix)
In our current media saturated, entertainment driven culture, it is not always easy to find something that not only goes against the trope saturated grain of mediocrity, but that does so with dynamic visual story telling, diverse and unique characters types, rich moral complexity, and an array of deep underlying philosophical themes woven throughout. It is safe to say that the series Arcane did just that. It is rightly being called a masterpiece.
For those unfamiliar with it, Arcane is a steampunk animation based off of the video game League of Legends. Arcane was released as a nine episode series that consisted of three acts. And make no mistake, Arcane is a tragedy. Though it’s animation is often bright, its tone is dark, its tempo is emotionally riveting, and its story is one of trauma, corruption, uncertainty, and death.
It might sound odd to look for any kind of Christian connection with such a work, but I believe there are countless crossovers. Despite many water-downed feel goody versions out there, there is really no getting around the fact that Christianity, in its true form, looks suffering, pain, evil, and death square in the face, something that finds a home in Arcane as well. But more than that, there is the question of the human condition, the impact of corruption at both the societal and individual level, a disdain for the abuse of power, the rebuke of turning a blind eye to the poor, the difficulty of finding lasting hope in a (mostly) immanent frame of existence, and the list goes on and on.
Now, one place that perhaps a connection would be least expected to be found, especially a positive one, is within the relationship between Jinx and Silco. Silco is the main villain of the show, and essentially the king of the undercity. Jinx is a deeply troubled and traumatized teenage girl whom Silco raises as his daughter after killing her adoptive father when she is but a child. That former father was also Silco’s brother, at least in title. Silco is evil, there is no doubt about that, but as with so many within Arcane, he is anything but monolithic.
Even in his twisted way, he loves Jinx immensely. That love is not an ideal version of love, but it is powerful nonetheless. Silco connects with Jinx, one who has been hurt and betrayed by her own blood, and that connection sparks a fatherly bond that is real. The twisted dimension of this bond is nearly ubiquitous. Silco was not a good father figure for Jinx to have. He encouraged her violence, he manipulated her past, and he kept her from experiencing the consequences of her actions. This distorted form of love is captured best, and overtly connected with Christianity, when Silco “baptizes” Jinx in an effort to get her to fully embrace her identity as the rebellious and wild Jinx that he wants her to be.
All that said, it is hard to deny that Silco still loves Jinx. But he is put to the test. His life’s ambition has the possibility of being realized, but it will cost him his precious Jinx. Even Jinx believes that he will make that sacrifice. In the final episode of its first (and currently only) season, Jinx has captured both her sister and Silco, and in a moment of confusion and desperation she kills her father figure (shown in the video clip below – I recommend watching the two minute clip to get into the overall feel for what follows, and of course to appreciate once more the quality of Arcane).
Jinx immediately regrets this, placing her hands upon her dying father’s face and offering agonized apologies. Silco, the villainous mastermind, a man who has surely murdered hundreds, if not thousands, looks upon the one who has just taken his own life, and even if in a twisted fashion, he does not curse her, he does not slap her, even in his dying breath, he does not abandon her. No, as he beholds his daughter, he expresses his deep love to her.
He does not do this by outrightly saying those words three magic words, but it’s impossible to miss. “I never would have given you to them. Not for anything. Don’t cry. You’re perfect.” For those familiar with the story at this point, with those who know Jinx, you understand why this is so powerful. In the hinging moment of Jinx’s life thus far, whether justified or not, she felt abandoned. This, combined with other ghosts, tormented her. So much so that she misread Silco’s intentions. But at this final moment, we know that he means it. She knows that he means it. For the world. For all of his dreams and aspirations. For everything he wanted out of life. He would not sacrifice her for it. He loved her too much.
Yet, it’s even more than that. Instead of hitting her across the face, at the moment when her actions have led to yet another “accidental” death of those she cares about, he comforts her. “Don’t cry.” Even if his hands were free, she knows they would only touch her cheek to remove the tears.
And that’s not the last of it. “You’re perfect.” On that night so many years ago, that night that changed everything, that night that occurred on this same property, the last night that she knew herself as Powder, that idea of perfection was never more distant from her. That night, she was not perfect. She was the polar opposite. That night, she was Jinx. That night, her name, her identity, were cemented into her psyche. Powder became Jinx, because she was a jinx. She was a curse. She had been discovered and what was there, what she was, was an abomination. But now, this night, Silco, knowing who she is, knowing what she is capable of, experiencing what she is capable of, tells her a different story with his final breath. “You’re perfect.” These words, these final words by Silco, radiate an unconditional love, a costly love, a sacrificial love.
Now, is Jinx perfect? Of course not. Far, far from it. She is a murderer and is about to only go further down that sinful path. Silco was wrong, very wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that love was still radically present in that moment, as was the power of a declaration of perfection given by a father. Even this evil man, still had a chamber of rich love found within his heart. It is a profound duality. It is jarring to see such a juxtaposed presentation of love present in present darkness. Perhaps it is only in his death that we, and Jinx, would ever truly believe him. If presented in any other way, would there not still be the doubt that a selfish motive ultimately reigns? But, now we truly know, and she knows, he would have never given her up. Not for anything.
What is it about love that can make it shine so brightly even within the darkest stories? Even within the darkest of moments? Even within the darkest of people? Love is of such a beauty that only it can shine within such darkness. It glimmers and glows when nothing else good will show.
And it is here that one of the whispers of Eden speaks loudest of all to us exiles. If love is truly what we believe it to be, if it is more than just a figment of our fantastic imaginations hopelessly projecting onto reality that which we so desperately long for. If love truly does exist. If it is a real thing. A transcendent thing. Then, for the Christian, and for those who dare to follow where love naturally leads, love is a light which points us gently, which draws us magnetically, which calls us beautifully, towards an even greater Light. There is something about blood and death and murder and love all being found within the same moment, that simply reeks of Christianity.
Recognizing the endless qualifications and cautions that could be stated here, that Jinx is guilty, that Silco’s perception of Jinx is wildly skewed, and other such things, there is nevertheless a powerful echo of the Christian story here. And I think it likely, that many would not expect the angle that follows to be taken by a conservative evangelical type like myself. I’m the kind of person that simply radiates that he’s from Piltover, high above all those undercity types, right? Well, if that’s your perception of people like me… let me tell you, you are wildly off the mark. As I watched Silco and Jinx, and particularly as I’ve reflected on the love that is present at his death and those two last syllables that proceeded from his lips, I cannot help but identify with Jinx. Right before those haunting voices reawaken her, as she weeps upon his dead body, I cannot help but see a major part of who I am in her.
My actions being responsible for the death of the only one who’d possibly accept me while also fully knowing me. My fear of rejection as I know that I am known. My brokenness. My trauma. My sins. My guilt. My shame. The utter impossibility of perfection haunting me, causing nothing but more failure. I wait for it. I wait for the slap in the face. I wait for the curse. I wait for the rejection. I anticipate the abandonment. I deserve it. But… it doesn’t come. Instead, I receive mercy. In its place, I receive grace. Not hate, but love. For once, I am accepted. At last, I am given perfection. As a Christian, I am literally baptized into it.
I have no delusions in thinking that the creators of Arcane were going for this. But, that does not mean that it is not present. If Christianity is true, then there is a monster that haunts us all. If Christianity is true, there is indeed a monster inside all of us. If Christianity is true, then Jinx is not an anomaly. She’s more of a dynamic manifestation of what resides in each one of us. We are our own monsters. And we’re scarier than we think. “Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). This is what resides within the heart of humankind. In people like Jinx. In people like me. In people like you. It takes on different forms. Some hide it better than others. But it’s there. It’s lurking in those dark corners of our hearts and minds that we are too scared to look into. But dare to scratch that surface, dare to take a long hard look, dare to be known and to know yourself, and you’ll find it. Jesus Christ says its there.
But that’s not the final act. The Christian story isn’t a tragedy. There is a redeemer who doesn’t run away when the real monster shows up. There is a Father who is actually good. There is a Son who really did die for those he loves. He didn’t just give anything. He gave himself. There is an offer to be known. Known fully for who we are. And somehow, there is a promise of being truly seen in perfection, being united in the perfection of Christ, given a new identity through a pure and undefiled baptism. Lastly, there is the assurance, that no one who comes to God through Christ, not one, no matter what they’ve done, no matter who they are, not one will be rejected. No one who calls Christ his brother, will ever be abandoned.